• Sea otters, silvers and a humpback whale lead the way
By Sean Pearson
At the very tip of the Homer Spit — behind Land’s End Resort — swimmers Lila Lee Little, Jan Rumble and Dana Jaworski helped each other wriggle into thick wetsuits. The morning sun failed to break through thick clouds, and heavy fog created a stunning backdrop of mist-shrouded mountains; an affable tide lapped against the rocks, washing shiny, translucent jellyfish ashore.
It was a good day.
In the months and weeks and days leading up to this event, Little, Rumble and Jaworski spent countless hours conditioning and swim-training in both the Kate Kuhns Aquatic Center pool and the open waters of Kachemak Bay. Their goal? Swim the 3.2 miles of open water to the other side of the Bay.
“I think it’s around 3.1 or 3.2 miles (as the crow flies),” Rumble said. “It’s hard to tell with the tide.”
As the swim trio finished preparations, the distinct sound of a whale’s blowhole in the water nearby immediately demanded attention. Almost silently, a juvenile humpback broke the water’s surface just a few hundred feet offshore.
This was definitely a good day.
An original departure time of 6 a.m. Saturday met with a forecast for 30-knot winds. The team opted to wait until Sunday. Apparently, these things happen for a reason.
“It worked out great for me, as I came down with a 104 fever on Friday and would have probably sunk on Saturday,” Little said. “On Sunday, the tide was an hour later, so the 7:15 a.m. start time actually worked out unexpectedly and incredibly well. The charters were all out by then, which was not something we had considered in our extensive planning.”
“Sunday morning ended up being perfect in many ways,” Jaworski agreed. “The humpback whale, seals feasting on pollock and a horde of silver salmon all welcomed us. In my opinion, it was a blessing from God.”
Rumble said she knew the swim was going to be good as soon as she saw the whale surface.
“The whale encouraged us to take the plunge and be one with the ocean,” she said. “I’m glad it wasn’t an Orca; that would have been a little different.”
Rumble, a biologist for Fish and Game, met mother-of-three Jaworski when they began coaching together with the Kachemak Bay Swim Club. She then introduced Jaworski to Little — a school teacher and mother of two toddlers — who Rumble knew from 6:30 a.m. swims at the high school pool.
“Honestly, both Dana and I thought about it separately,” Rumble explained. “She said, ‘I have an idea,’ and I said, ‘let’s swim across Kachemak Bay this summer.’ It may have been the other way around, but you get the idea.”
Jaworski said that, because both she and Rumble had the same idea, they knew it was meant to be.
The three swimmers, not surprisingly, come from strong swimming backgrounds. Little swam in high school and throughout her undergrad career at Whitman College. Rumble has been swimming since she was 5 years old, and continues to swim at the pool 3-4 times a week.
Jaworski swam competitively from age 7 through college, and has continued teaching and coaching swimming since that time.
The three swam as a group once a week during training season, and got as many open-water swims in as possible. They gradually increased their training regime until they got up to 3.2 miles.
“It may have been a bucket-list kinda thing at first, but I think we’ll be doing more swims together,” Jaworski said. “I’ve enjoyed the experience of open-water swimming; being part of something so epic in one of the most amazing places on the planet is incredible.“
Rumble said the best part of the swim for her was the camaraderie.
“The feeling in our group just couldn’t have been more positive,” she said.
Two kayaks, two motorized boats and two paddle boarders provided support for the swimmers during their journey. Rumble said they created a positive environment, and actually helped warm them up after the swim.
“This whole thing would not have been possible without our support crew,” Rumble said. Little agreed, chalking the support up to “an incredible community” and “incredible friends.”
“Coaching friends and parents of KSC swimmers were our main support,” Jaworski said. “Friends and folks came out from the community to be a part of the swim. We could not have done it without their support.”
When pressed, Rumble said the jaunt was a little harder than she thought it would be.
“We have been swimming along the outside of the Spit all summer, where we are able to see the bottom of the ocean along the way,” Rumble said. “This provides a level of comfort and a sense of moving forward. In the middle of the ocean, there is no where to walk out, and you just hope you are moving forward.”
All three said the frigidity of the glacial waters caught them by surprise.
“We had read about and spoke to other people who had made the crossing, and were under the impression that they encountered the cold water for about the last 500 yards,” Little explained. “For us, the glacier melt-off currents were out almost two miles.”
Rumble said she too was surprised.
“We knew it was there, but thought it would hit us at the end,” she said. “I have a thick wetsuit, so the only things that were cold were my face and my teeth; a very odd sensation.”
Jaworski said that, during a team safety/support meeting last week, she began to get concerned that the swim would be anti-climactic, having already swam the equal distance in training.
“Nothing, however, could prepare me for the wall of glacial run-off that met us a mile and a half off the Spit,” she said. “With a 20-degree decrease in water temperature, every stroke was a gut-check.”
Jaworski said that, as they progressed, the water grew colder and colder.
“The last 1,000 yards were excruciating, and I was thankful we landed when we did,” she explained. “I was convulsing from the cold, and if we had not had good support, down jackets, warm drinks and the bigger boat at the end of the swim, I could have been in a bad way.”
So, why would anyone choose to swim across frigid ocean waters?
“It is a great goal to have,” Rumble said. “Often, training for something that is difficult is very satisfying and forces you to do things that are out of the norm. Getting up at 4:50 a.m. in the morning is something I am sure we have not done in a long time.”
Rumble said the experience opened up a world of ocean swimming for her.
“Just training for it made me realize how much I love the ocean — even at 5:30 a.m.,” she said. “And finding two other gals who wanted to take this on was inspiring.”
Jaworski chalks up her decision to swim to an insatiable desire to do something that seems impossible.
“I have had this ‘problem’ since birth,” she said. “And once an idea or challenge plants itself in my heart and mind, I will work my butt off trying to accomplish it.”
Casualties from the swimming adventure were limited to a bit of chafing in the wetsuits; certainly not enough to deter the team from more swims.
“I think we’re all excited to continue,” Rumble said. “We’re thinking about swimming to Halibut Cove next year.”
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